God will uphold you with His victorious right hand.

I will uphold you with My victorious right hand. This beautifully brings the supreme comfort to a close. He uses a new word, I will uphold you. Christ grants the strength of His own righteousness to all believers and descends on the wretchedness of all who rely on their righteousnesses. Therefore he says here: “Only the righteousness of Christ, which is His own, this alone helps you against all enemies.” There he indicates that the Christian man is especially distressed by his own righteousnesses or is even perplexed by sins, his own and those of others and false ones. Day and night Satan is busy making sinners afraid, and with endless devices he assails this citadel, a happy conscience. That is something he cannot endure. But Christ fortifies this citadel against all the assaults and endless schemes of Satan. “Do not be confused, do not fear sins, and do not rely on your righteousness, but walk the middle way. Grasp My righteousness, and cling to it alone.”

Martin Luther
Luther’s Works Vol. 17 Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66

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Their works are nothing but grasshoppers. . .

This comparison with grasshoppers is frequently used in the Scriptures, as if to say, “Grasshoppers are easily shooed away.” All inhabitants of the earth are like this in the sight of God. They cannot bear God’s least judgment but are scattered by one word and breath of God. So today we observe that the pope and all the most holy servants of the Mass are in God’s sight nothing but grasshoppers that are scattered. The nations, again, are not to be understood metaphysically. The reference is to every undertaking and righteousness on their part that aims at appeasing God. Their works are nothing but grasshoppers that must be dispersed. And they hang on very weakly.

Martin Luther
Luther’s Works Vol. 17: Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66

The gist of preaching is “Behold your God.”

Say to the cities of Judah: Behold your God! He mentions the doctrine that should be preached. This is the gist of your preaching: Behold your God! “Promote God alone, His mercy and grace. Preach Me alone.” The rest, the ungodly, preach the doctrines and works of men, their own rules and righteousnesses. This herald must avoid that kind of teaching and speak of Christ alone. In Him alone rests all our salvation.

Martin Luther
Luther’s Works Vol. 17: Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66

Epiphany OT Sermon 2013

Epiphany OT Sermon 2013

Jan 6, 2013
Isaiah 60:1-6


Rev. Ed Maanum
Outline help from Rev. Robert L. Rosin (Selection from Concordia Pulpit Resources) p 164-166
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Light is important, be it the physical light that came into existence by the very Word of God. You know what happened in Genesis 1; God said, “Let there be light and there was light.” There is also the spiritual light of faith. We cannot live without it. Given the option we’d all rather be enlightened individuals rather than living in the dark ages, and I don’t mean the 90′s before Google.

Speaking of being enlightened, during the Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries) there was a German philosopher named Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. He judged the era of the Enlightenment as “the best of all possible worlds.” Voltaire, the French wit, eventually agreed that the Age of Reason was the greatest epoch that the world had known.

Things weren’t finished of course. There were still mysteries calling out, just waiting to be explained by someone. But the process of enlightenment was underway. Life was getting clearer and clearer in this Age of Reason, in this Enlightenment.

Superstitions were being shot down left and right on a nearly daily basis. The lifeless corpses of the beliefs of times gone past were being dragged through the streets for all to see. They were left to rot in the ditches of human thought and reason. The two things that would always win out in that Age of Reason, in the Enlightenment were thought and reason.

Despite the human thought that was happening, the Age of Reason gave way to revolution and bloodshed instead of an Eden-like utopic peace. That’s one thing that the Enlightened truly fear… bloodshed, especially their own. For they replaced faith with reason, the illogical death of God with a logical conclusion that if God does exist, then He doesn’t care. So the Enlightened feared death, but viewed it as necessary… as long as it wasn’t their own.

But those who died their big death in their baptisms, those who were drowned in the blood of Christ fear not physical death or bloodshed. What is the worst that the world can do to me? “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:19-20).

Many in the Age of Reason had a more realistic anthropology. But when darkness closed in around them… when the light faded… people refused to see the Light that is Christ. Instead, they tried to use substituted illumination that always colors things a little bit differently than if one was outside in the glowing rays of the Sun of Righteousness.

This belief is all too human since the fall. The sunrise, sunset and day and night between them show us that nothing is new under the sun. It just gets renamed and the packaging gets redesigned to fit the day’s tastes. No matter how much we work while there is still light, the night always follows.

Yet we don’t like the night. So we try to turn the night into day. Cities are ablaze with lights that never seem to sleep. Intellectually and spiritually we are like Dylan Thomas, we “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” And we “do not go gentle into that good night.”

We’re left wondering; where do we find the light for life? Truth appears not as some blazing sun for all to see, but as a twinkling star in the middle of a cold dark winter’s night. The faint glimmer of light in a sky that is as dark as it is deep. At this moment three skies catch our attention.

Centuries ago, God gave Abram a promise under the night sky: new land, offspring outnumbering the stars in the clear sky, and the news that through him and his offspring, all of the world would be blessed. We are told in Genesis that Abram believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.

Hitting the old fast forward button, we come to some of Abram’s descendents held in the darkness of captivity in Babylon. The sky looked different from home, but the stars were still shining. God wasn’t done fulfilling His promises.

If Abram’s descendents wanted to hear more, they also had the alrewdy at that time, old writings of Isaiah who said, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Is 60:1). Salvation through death is still God’s plan. God will not let the darkness triumph. God’s glory shines in His deliverance. They may not yet see its fulfillment, in their return from captivity and the Messiah that was yet to come, but like light from the stars, it was a fact, already on the way, pieces moving into place, because God had spoken it. And when God speaks, it is done.

Fast-forward several more generations and there is another nighttime sky with stars shining in the darkness. Light has appeared. This was a special star seen in the East. The Wise Men saw that the promise to Abram had been fulfilled. All nations were now blessed. The glory of the Lord has broken forth. A promise was made flesh. Light has shown in the darkness. Light shined forth life.

Where is this glory? It is where God’s love is manifest, where sinners are saved. It was all in a child. Were it not for God’s grace, and for the faith He gives, no one would have seen that light.

What of you still today? They say, “wise men still seek him.” True. But seek this child, this Jesus, where? Stars? Ever try stargazing in the city, it’s not gonna happen because the city lights cloud the view. Glaring street lamps, headlight ribbons on the freeways, dazzling marquees, and flashing neon signs of all shapes and sizes compete for attention: Look here! Look at me! The stars that once stood as a sign are all but lost amid the pollution. Attention is diverted to the shiny artificial lights. It’s no accident that Satan deceives as Lucifer, bearer of light.

Yet, God leaves nothing to chance. You’re not off on your own. Jesus makes sure you see His light by taking you to the right place. The heavens aren’t your focus. Abraham’s promise is fulfilled. The Epiphany star proclaiming Jesus’ birth has come and gone. But Jesus’ glory still rises and shines on you, seen not where you might think to look, but Jesus directs your sight.

The spotlight of a star is not on a throne room in a capital city, but on a manger in a no nothing, hick town where infant Jesus, the Redeemer of mankind by His own death, lays. Why did Jesus come? For the darkness of Good Friday. In that midday’s darkness of death, God sends spiritual life. Who would think that a cross of wood would shine like Jesus?

Easter dawn beams into that empty tomb and confirms it all. To make sure that this saving love of Jesus is yours, Jesus focuses your vision on His light that is standing right before you. The things Jesus illumines seem unlikely. They are Jesus’ gifts that contain His promise to you; Baptism; Absolution; Word fixed to bread and wine… Christ given and shed for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Catch that… To you…. For you. As I said a few moments ago, you died your big death in your Baptism when you were drowned in Jesus’ holy flowing blood from His pierced side on the cross. Christ now lives in you and you live to Christ. To live to Christ means to receive His gifts as one who is dead. They are yours, no purchase necessary.

You know what, maybe Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was right after all. Just not in the way he thought. This is the best of all possible worlds. The Sun of Righteousness is risen. Epiphany has dawned. The Light of Jesus shines and you now bask in its eternal glow like a child lying on the grass on a beautiful summer day. Amen.

Gaudete OT Sermon 2012 Isaiah 40:1-8

Gaudete Sermon 2012
December 16, 2012
Isaiah 40:1-8 

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         For my money the sounds of nature while camping in the spring are some of the most beautiful sounds we can experience.  The fire crackles with wood that is still wet on the inside and sizzles as it pours out trying to escape as steam. The birds are each singing their unique and blissfully simple tunes for all to hear and enjoy. You may have a creek or river with water that is flowing fiercely nearby. The animals are coming awake after a long winter’s nap. 

         Like Superman had his Fortress of Solitude in the blistery cold of the Arctic, I had the various campgrounds in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and a few of the northern lakes in the Minnesota Boundary Waters that I used to go to with my Boy Scout Troop and occasionally with my family. During the hustle and the bustle of the school year I would look forward with anticipation to a monthly weekend trip, or weeklong trips in the summer. My friends and I would spend two or more Scout meetings in preparation. We had to decide who was going to bring what, what was going to be cooked and by whom and who got stuck with KP. 

         I loved the freedom we had to hike, fish, play cribbage and other cards games or just to sit and relax around the fire while enjoying the stars in their heavenly courses. The sounds of nature providing their comforting siren songs, knowing that everything was going to be alright when I got back home and to school again on Monday. 

         The wilderness was a great contrast to the sounds of life in the Chicago suburbs. The town had sounds of children playing and enjoying themselves. There were sounds of birds, but not as many as in the wilderness. There were also the sounds of cars speeding down the streets not acknowledging Stop signs and speed limits as more than suggestions. There were trains rolling by and planes making their descents to the town airport. 

         There were also the soul-destroying sounds of parents screaming profanities at their children. The sounds from a homeless man or woman begging for money outside of the liquor stores. The sounds of prostitutes looking for Johns. There were the joyous sounds of concert bands having concerts in the park and marching band putting on half-time shows. So it goes in the cities. So it goes in the suburbs. 

         Sounds are an important part of our lives. Some sounds remind us of good times gone past. Others remind us of pain and loss. But today … today I want you to consider the sounds of Advent. Let these sounds comfort you by entering your hearts through your ears. Let Isaiah echo all around you. As Simon and Garfunkel might sing, listen to the Sounds of Advent. 

         We begin with Sounds of Comfort. 

         “Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” 

         Isaiah prophesized these words to Jerusalem, that is to ‘her’ the bride of Christ, and also to you. The comfort is that your “warfare is ended and your iniquities are pardoned.” Sin that causes you to fear, doubt and despair before the face of the living God has been removed. Sin that is the source of so much pain in this world has been removed. Sins that cannot trust Jesus and His promises of peace have been removed. 

         The internal warfare that sin causes inside of you has been removed by the Gospel, by the sweet sound of Comfort that proceed from the mouth of Jesus when He says to you “Child take heart. I have taken on your warfare and your battling with sin into my very incarnate flesh for you. You no longer have to wage war for I have won the victory for you. You are forgiven.” 

         Just like Jerusalem who first heard these words a few hundred years before she fell in 586bc, we have to take Isaiah’s words from Jesus to His people of comfort by faith. Your forgiveness is taken by faith. Yet your daily experiences tell you otherwise. They tell you that this sweet sounding comfort hasn’t been experienced by you yet. You don’t have a destruction, captivity and return to validate the words of the prophet. 

         You have the forgiveness, and the promises that ancient Israel had. Your victory is won. Your troubles are over. You have received double forgiveness for the sins that you have committed in this life. The tree of death whose fruit is sin has been removed. The axe in Jesus’ hand has chopped it down and destroyed its roots. 

         You have received this comfort, in the words of the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed: “not by reason or senses.” Grace is wonderful. There isn’t a one-to-one correlation of Grace to sin, but double Grace for sins. This is pure mercy of God. Endless works and labor will not win this Grace for you. There is no merit needed. You are given double because of God’s Grace Alone. Jesus comes with hands and sides pierced by nails and spear and says, “Take eat,” “Take drink.” “Comfort, comfort my people. You are forgiven” 

         The second sound is the sound of anticipation. 

         “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”” 

         All, or parts, of these words are in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to describe the last prophet before Jesus, His cousin, John the Baptist. John is the voice that prepares the way of the Lord… for the new message of the Gospel. 

         Martin Luther wrote in his lectures on Isaiah that: “The voice of one crying, that is, a new kind of teaching which should be proclaimed everywhere. In the wilderness. This voice is sent forth in the wilderness both by the preacher himself and by the hearers. By contrast wilderness is placed opposite the teaching of the Law. For like a jail, a wall, and a city, the Law secures and fences us in. The voice of the Gospel, however, is a free wilderness, open to all, public, and unrestrained like a wilderness. There is indeed a limitation about the Law, but the teaching of the Gospel is most free and most unrestrained. Hence all these words are as by contrast set against the teaching of the Law. The voice of one crying in the wilderness. This voice of the Gospel takes the place of the whispering murmur, which teaches the Law in specified localities. This voice, however, has no definite place and teacher. Moses whispers, but the Gospel shouts confidently and most vigorously (p 8). 

         In summary, Luther is saying that the Gospel is where freedom is. The Law cages you in. It puts boundaries and barriers upon you that control, limit and eventually destroy your faith. The Gospel is free. There is no boundary to it. You cannot stop it because Jesus and His voice of forgiveness in His death echo everywhere. They are for everyone.

         It is the Gospel, the sounds of forgiveness in the incarnation that we anticipate celebrating on Christmas morning. This is when we remember that Jesus, God of God from eternity, took on flesh to lower the mountains and raise the valleys in His ministry so that all may be saved. The mountains are those who are puffed up with pride, arrogance and feelings of self-salvation like the Pharisee. The valleys are the beggars, the sinners, and the publicans, who stand before God in all their sinful glory knowing that they cannot save themselves. All are made equal before Jesus who dies so that all may live. 

         The third and final sound we see in Isaiah today is the sound of the Eternal Word.

         “A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

          When I was a boy and would camp in the wilderness the sounds of the city would fade away. So too will the sounds of the world. The world preaches death and only death. You get pregnant and don’t want the child? Answer of the world: death to the child. You get old, feeble and don’t contribute enough financially to society and get sick? The answer: death. The rationale is that its cheaper than paying for medication. Have a poor quality of life, whatever that means? The answer: death. Death is all that the world knows and it shouts this sound of despair at the top of its lungs for all to hear.

         To some extent the world is correct. Since the fall, all flesh is like grass. Eventually we all will fade and wither, but in Christ we will never die. Jesus made sure of that on the cross. When Jesus died upon that tree of death He made it a new tree of life that whoever eats its fruit shall live. When Jesus rose He defeated death ensuring that those who pass from this vale of tears, pass through death as if like a dream, to awaken with Jesus in paradise of His making. This is Jesus’ promise to you when He baptized you in His blood that was spilt upon that new tree freeing you from the bondage of the city of Law and putting you in the wilderness of the Gospel. 

         Contrasted with our limited time upon this earth is the Word of God that you hear spoken into your ears that will stand forever. This Word reveals Jesus because Jesus is the Word made flesh. The Word of Jesus that says, “you are forgiven” silences all others.   

         In conclusion, there are so many sounds that surround us on a daily basis. There are so many sounds that disturb us as well as delight us. But in the midst of them all are the sounds of Advent. The voice of Jesus has spoken tender words of comfort, words of anticipation, and words of everlasting life. Absorb the sounds of Advent and live them out! Amen.